Floods force £15m aristocratic arts sell-off

Jan Brueghel the Elder: The Garden of Eden. Photo: Sotheby's images

Artworks belonging to one of the country's oldest aristocratic families are being auctioned off after they were left with a large repair bill for damage caused by floods near Newcastle.

Around 80 items from the collection of the Duke of Northumberland will be sold by Sotheby's in London and are predicted to fetch more than £15 million.

The treasures include a Roman marble statue of Aphrodite that dates to around 41AD and is expected to sell for £6 million, a marble-topped commode valued at £1.2 million and paintings including a work by Jan Brueghel the Elder expected to make around £3 million.

The current duke said the sale was prompted by "unexpected and momentous" floods at Newburn in 2012 where an underground culvert collapsed in the face of heavy rain, damaging several buildings which had to be demolished.

The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, the first book ever printed in English. Credit: Sotheby's images

"Our overriding responsibility was to help those affected. The costs involved in repairing the damaged culvert in Newburn have now been settled, but largely from funds that were destined for maintenance of our historic buildings and projects intended to safeguard the future of the estates.

"It is to replenish these funds that these Sotheby's sales have been conceived. While each of the pieces to be sold is of great intrinsic interest, they have been carefully chosen so as not to detract from the overall integrity of the Northumberland Collection.

"Over the centuries, my family has had the extraordinary good fortune to be the custodians of many great treasures. We dearly hope that those that are now being sold from the collection will bring as much joy to their new owners as they have to both me and my ancestors."

– Duke of Northumberland
Roman marble statue of Aphrodite that dates to around 41AD. Credit: Sotheby's images

Also for sale are two letters signed by Queen Elizabeth I and The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, the first book ever printed in English, which dates to around 1473 and is valued at £800,000.

The collection will be offered for sale at different auctions throughout the year.

"The extraordinary depth and richness of the Northumberland Collection is legendary.

"Charting not only the Percy family's history over an entire millennium, but also important moments in the artistic development of many schools and nations, the collection ranks among the finest private art collections in the world.

"While the pieces to be sold are all of enormous interest and beauty, they have been carefully selected so as to ensure the overall integrity of the Northumberland Collection remains intact."

– Henry Wyndham, Chairman of Sotheby's Europe
Flooding at Newburn, in Newcastle 2012, where a culvert collapsed. Credit: Credit: ITV News